To Ed Lasky, the Secretary General’s decision to evacuate non-essential U.N. personnel from East Timor is proof positive of the U.N.’s inherent fecklessness: “Meant to protect civilians, UN staff have run away from the capital of East Timor after an outbreak of violence… If someone says “boo” to them, they turn tail.” Lasky, however, does not bother to mention that those workers who were evacuated from East Timor last week were civil servants who perform important (but in a conflict zone, non-essential) tasks such as HIV/Aids education, civil society training, legal work, and more.
There is, in fact, no UN peacekeeping force per-se in East Timor. Rather, last week the Security Council quickly and unanimously authorized the deployment of a multinational force led by Australia, and augmented by New Zealand, Malaysia, and Portugal. Today, there are some 1,300 troops in East Timor with more on the way. Evacuating non-essential U.N. staff from the region effectively frees these troops from the job of guarding the internationals, thereby allowing them to perform pacifying missions like disarming the machete wielding rioters. If one’s goal is to restore order to East Timor, then temporarily evacuating non-essential U.N. staff was the responsible thing to do, both for the Timorese and the international civil servants working there.